Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Back to the gloom - but now we see the sun.

The London weather has turned over a new leaf for March - the last two days have heralded brilliant sunshine & something bordering on warmth. Apart from that, the last two and a half weeks since returning from Canada have been pretty gloomy & wet. Not that that has mattered too much as I've been staying up much too late watching the Winter Olympics - fantastic & quite addictive viewing Consequently, I haven't taken a single photo since my return & may have some trouble remembering what I've been up to. Nice to catch up with NZ cousin Chris for his birthday the day after my return - & good to see the expecting couple Sasha & Blair, who are planning their return to NZ in a couple of months.

I haven't been quite the tourist around London that I was when the weather was more conducive. Nonetheless, I've managed to finish off looking around the National Gallery - unfortunately mostly during the very busy period of half-term. I particularly enjoyed the English landscape work of Constable, Turner & so on. While the National Portrait Gallery is a lot smaller, I enjoyed looking around there yesterday - will be back some time to finish - I liked to see the pictures of various scientists from the 1800s, especially Faraday & Lord Kelvin.

A couple of days last week I had to head in to the city briefly & it was definitely museum weather. The first time I went to the Hunterian Museum (Royal College of Surgeons) before heading out to catch up with the Patricks. The museum is roughly a third of what it was before it got hit during the Blitz and is what remains of John Hunter's collection of all sorts of anatomical specimens from humans & animals - from the days of surgery with public viewing, a shortage of corpses for scientific study, & grave-robbers supplying the demand for bodies. It was much larger than I was expecting & the history of the medical profession was fascinating; I'm sure all the displays would have been even more interesting if I was medically trained. The best part however was the rather extensive display of surgical instruments (some quite disturbing of course) & the history of the surgical instrument making trade. This was of interest to me as it was in this trade that my grandfather apprenticed in for seven years from 1939 & then worked in. It was great to see quite a few (ten to a dozen) instruments made by the company he trained & worked in (Down Brothers) during the period in which he was there - even if he didn't make the exact instruments I saw, I'm sure he must have made some ones that were identical to those on display.

Opposite the Hunterian Museum, across Lincoln's Inn Field is another fantastic free museum. The Sir John Soane Museum was left to the nation by Soane on the condition that it be free for everyone to enter & it be left in the state in which it was when he died. Soane was one of Britain's greatest architects (his work on the Bank of England) may be his most well known, even if little of it except the imposing outer walls survives after expansion in the 1920s & '30s. The museum is based on his three adjoining houses - Number 12, 13 & 14 & is filled with his vast collection of paintings, architectural drawings, sculptures & ancient artefacts. Soane was famous for his use & exploitation of natural light in a time when there was no electric or gas lighting in buildings. This was perhaps best demonstrated in 'The Picture Room', a reasonably small room in which there are over a hundred paintings (& not all that small ones at that) ingeniously hung on the front & back of large hinged false walls. The two series of Hogarths in there are quite something; there are also numerous pictures of Soane's designs & buildings. Outside of The Picture Room two Canalettos of Venice are pretty neat, as is the sarcophagus of the Egyptian King Seti I (died 1290 BC) that Soane bought after the British Museum refused to pay £2000 for it. The Bank of England museum was only a couple of tube stops away & with spare time, I very happily whiled away a couple of hours learning about the history of the bank, the British currency & currency in general. As one would expect there is a bit of loose change of various ages lying around - also some ingots of gold, one of which you can pick up ever slightly (the case it is in is somewhat restrictive).

Saturday last I was down in Farnborough staying & riding with a MTB mate - Andy. It turned out to be the largest group ride I've ever been on - almost thirty people (& one dog, not on a bike) I think. Naturally, it had been raining for quite a few days before so the forest (mostly in & around MOD) land was pretty wet & muddy - just as well the sand drains reasonably well, or else it would have been even worse! We all met at nine o'clock (the earliest I had been up & out of the house in a couple of weeks) near the Basingstoke Canal - after general flaffing around & waiting for a straggler we were out riding just after half past. Thankfully the ride was a pretty easy pace, mostly due to the size of the group I think, & there were no real hills - this was good as it was my first MTB ride for the year & it was really wet (but not cold). There were some nice bits of singletrack & as always, I was pleased to be back on the bike. It was a little odd riding near a military firing range - there were some pretty decent booms not all that far away from where we were. Returning back to Andy's place we were of course soaked & needing to clean bikes & ourselves (with the final bike clean this morning I've found I am in need of a new pair of rear brake pads - I'm sure they weren't that old). After sorting myself out & watching Italy beat Scotland in the Six Nations, it was a pretty short drive up the M3 & M25 to the Patricks where I was babysitting for the night.

Yesterday was the first of the cracking days of sunshine, so Walking London came off the book shelf & I tried to find a walk that I hadn't done yet in the central city (didn't want to head too far out as the ground is still pretty soggy). Found I hadn't done the Covent Garden walk yet, so that was a pleasant stroll. Not too much I hadn't seen before - a lot of theatres of course, & the houses of all sorts of literary figure & the rather fancy Savoy.

That's about all the news - apart from the half-hearted start to the job-hunt; it's a bit of a trade off between finding a job I could do & starting to earn some pounds or waiting for a job that I like the look of & might be a bit more challenging. And I'm going to Madrid on Thursday for ten days - that all happened very quickly. For half the time I'm volunteering at some English language internment - where basically you sit & speak English to Spanish people who are learning the language. I don't know too much about Madrid, but it looks pretty neat, so it should be a good week & a bit.

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